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Regents vote, reluctantly, to boost student fees
Last week’s action taken as part of overall plan to cope with state budget crisis

23 July 2003


Saying it was acting now to prevent ever-deeper state budget cuts from damaging the quality of the student instructional program, the University of California Board of Regents voted July 17 to raise 2003-04 student fees 25 percent above their current level. The vote was 13-3.

The board also gave UC President Richard C. Atkinson authority to increase the fee hike to 30 percent if the state’s budget situation requires. Atkinson is expected to make his decision about the additional 5 percent soon.

“The state’s budget cuts to the university have continued to deepen, and next year may be even worse than this year,” Atkinson told the regents. “We now are on the verge of doing great harm to the academic quality of the University of California, including the quality of the student educational experience, unless we take action.

“This fee proposal is a difficult one,” he continued, “but it is only one of many actions being taken to cope with this budget crisis, and I believe it is essential if we are to avoid cutting class offerings, increasing class sizes, and delaying students’ progress to graduation. We have a strong financial-aid program in place that will mitigate or eliminate the effects of this fee increase for lower-income students, as well as for many middle-income students.”

A 25-percent increase will mean that resident undergraduates will pay $960 more in fees this year, or $4,794, while resident graduate students will pay an additional $1,005, or $5,019 per year. Should Atkinson elect to increase the fees by 30 percent, resident undergraduates would pay $4,984 per year, resident graduate students $5,219.

The regents also increased nonresident tuition by an additional 10 percent, over and above the overall fee increases.

Fees for students in some professional schools will see somewhat larger increases. For a complete listing of Berkeley campus fees, see registrar.berkeley.edu/Registration/feesched.htm.

Berkeley students first to feel the pinch
Students at Berkeley, where the fall semester begins a month earlier than at other UC campuses, will be the first to pay the higher fees.

“I know these changes may be difficult, but we will do everything possible to ensure that these fee increases do not prevent any student from enrolling this fall,” noted Chancellor Robert Berdahl.

Financial aid for students in need will increase along with fees. Generally, for resident undergraduates with family incomes below $60,000, a UC fee grant will cover the entire cost of the increase; for those with family in-comes between $60,000 and $90,000, a grant will cover about half of the increase. For nearly two-thirds of graduate students, the fee increase will be completely offset by financial support and awards.

At Berkeley, emergency loans will also be available after August 19 for students without resources to pay one-fifth of their fees, the amount required for registration.

Painting a difficult picture
In his presentation to the regents, UC Vice President for Budget Larry Hershman laid out the scope of the financial dilemma, emphasizing the shortfall of nearly $1 billion in 2003-04 from the university’s partnership agreement with the state. The shortfall is comprised, first, of base-budget cuts of $360 million, Hershman told the regents. He said there is the added impact of the loss of salary increases that faculty and staff would have received under the UC-state partnership agreement. He put a $418-million price tag on this loss.

“We’re going to be 9 percent behind the market in terms of faculty salaries, a very serious problem given that we’re recruiting faculty related to enrollment growth. . . and a serious problem for staff as well.”

Hershman described the fundamental strategy — what he called a “shared vision” — for addressing the cuts in the governor’s proposed budget for the university: cutting program costs ($360 million), giving essentially no across-the-board salary increases ($418 million), and assessing higher student fees ($179 million).

“While some people are suggesting that this is all being [accomplished] by student fee increases, that’s not correct,” he said, pointing out that the fee hike addresses some 20 percent of the total problem.

In addition, Hershman emphasized, the state legislature is considering even deeper cuts beyond those supported by the governor. Both houses have agreed on additional cuts of $80 million to the university, and further cuts totaling as much as $400 million are being debated. The university also expects to cope with the cut by borrowing as much as $50 million in the 2003-04 year.

Reluctant pros, adamant cons
A morning of intense and sometimes fractious debate followed Hershman’s presentation. Proponents of the fee increase expressed their reluctant support “in a crisis situation” (in the words of Regent Sherry Lansing), while those opposed suggested students were being asked to shoulder too much too soon after last semester’s 11.2-percent fee increase.

Student Regent Matt Murray strongly opposed the fee increase. “The real problem here,” he said before the vote, “is that the state legislature refuses to pass a budget, and members of the legislature refuse to raise taxes at all. I think that’s outrageous; it’s terrible public policy. Students will have to work more, take out more loans, drop out of school, so that the richest of the rich can buy another Mercedes-Benz.”

Prior to last week’s fee increase, UC’s mandatory systemwide student fees for resident undergraduates were just $35 more than in 1994-95. After increasing significantly during the budget crisis of the early 1990s, fees did not increase for seven years — and even fell 10 percent (for resident undergraduates) in the late 1990s.

A 30-percent fee increase still leaves resident-undergraduate fees more than $1,200 below the average of UC’s comparison public institutions (Illinois, Michigan, SUNY Buffalo, and Virginia), though Stephen Klass, chair of the UC Student Association, pointed out that these comparisons ignore the Bay Area’s relatively high cost of living.

The point was echoed by Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamente, who said, “It’s the working-class families who are going to bear the brunt of this problem. This increase lacks vision, especially during a down economy....In tough economic times, college should be more affordable, not less. Fee hikes are a kind of sticker shock that will discourage college participation.”
When they meet in September, the regents will discuss a proposal offered by Tom Sayles, one of the fee-hike dissenters on the board, who advocates a surcharge on the most affluent UC students to protect students from middle-income families.

“I’m shocked that [the regents] have not been able to develop a fee policy which is predictable and moderate, and that increases at a pace over time that would keep us from having to go through this over and over again,” said Sayles during the meeting. “We’re forcing middle-income people out of this institution because we’re not making tough decisions.”

For regular updates on student fees and other budget news, visit www.berkeley.edu/news/budget.